You, who sorrowed so much, now being happy, see
The meaning of your life expressed eternally:
And what, I wonder, does it look like, if you laugh,
Instead of cry, at all the troubles which you had.
The many bills are ‘Paid with thanks’, but the hard hearts
Which you came up against on earth, do they seem bad,
Or simply small, the prison cells of early grief?
I think you see them as I see them, under art’s
Kind lighting, though I’ve torn up lines before I came
To see them as you see them, sad people all the same.
Your life explains itself to you, but I recount
This incident or that, as though the mere amount
Of things might have a meaning. If the exiled Queen
Of Serbia had the doors thrown open, talked to you,
While dining all alone, the Paris convent still
Invested with her vanished protocol, the scene
Says something up in Heaven but not here until
The emptiness of worldly majesty comes true.
My satisfaction that you knew her fades away:
Like yours, her sadness must have lasted day after day.
Why was your life so sorrowful, like music played
Over and over on the violin? (You paid
More than you could afford to try to have me taught.
And how I hated it! ‘Take your eyes off the clock
And keep them on the notes,’ the Russian teacher said.
Do you remember how the elevator stuck,
And we prayed for hours until the firemen finally brought
It safely down?) Was it because Grandfather was dead?
No, it had begun long before that. In childhood
You had, I think, been lost in some unloving wood.
But that is all forgiven and forgotten, and
Gently and lovingly you’d have me understand
I must forgive, and God will forever then forget
My sins, which caused you a different kind of grief. So
Often I say the Our Father, which you taught me, yet
So easily do not forgive. But why did God
Allow such things to happen, since they meant that no
Ordinary life would be my own? How the odd
Is hated by children, and by who more than me?
I can’t believe that some boys grew up happily.
But Christ, the blameless, suffered. I am forced to say
The troubles of my life are all deserved, since they
Balance a little bit the many selfish wrongs
I ran up, laughing, in the years between the time
I went away and then, so long, so long, came back,
Drawn by the prayers you said. Could I forget the songs
You sang before I fell asleep, ignore the rhyme
That lingered, which invoked Our Lady’s help? The sack
And ruin of my soul were never that complete:
You had stored secret treasures there against defeat.
You made the Church a great, triumphant, marble place,
Whose brilliant altars were cascades of light and lace,
Where the Latin rose and fell, imploring pity on
The fools who raged against the Apostolic See:
Caesar commands, the same sad Caesar swept away;
So too with king and doge and demagogue, all gone;
And still the Pope moves down the aisle of history.
At other moments, when we stopped, went in to pray,
The incense-laden darkness, warm and welcoming,
Wavered, where the red lamp burned, and God solved everything.
I was so easily the perfect altar-boy
That had the next step followed, had I left the toy
World, with its mass of valued junk, become a priest,
It would have seemed what you had longed for, yet I think
God was most merciful in those unanswered prayers.
He knew me as I was: rebellious, on the brink
Of the long wandering; saw me go off to the lost
Streets, the lonely luxe-hotels, the endless friendless bars,
And the all-night bookshop - the thief’s way to search
For love, and, lovingly, He kept me out of church.
Mother, this poem is more about myself than you.
But those who know me will not be surprised. I do
And say so little if I cannot somehow make
Myself the centre. Long ago those day-dreams did
Their work. So now, perhaps, I only write because
In childhood, underneath romantic masks, I hid
From being just myself. Books were my first mistake.
Or were they? Then they brought their paper peace, a pause
In the midst of worry. I have much to thank God for,
Not least the joy of reading. Writing helped still more.
You and my father both encouraged me to write.
I never had uncomprehending parents to fight,
Who wanted me drearily to make a fortune. You both
Had too much sense for that. How sad you could not get
On better together, did not understand each
Other. My father loved you, and you loved him, yet
That did not mean a peaceful family life. The truth,
I think, was that you both were brought up sternly, which
Made marriage hard for you. And so faults on either side,
For neither you nor he were saints, became magnified.
He was away so much at sea, and you, alone,
Were frightened, and you were ill so much. The tone
Of sorrow grew until it filled the house with all
The tremolos of heartbreak and dismay. A child
Who never had grown up, you could not dominate
Your life. And then the money went so fast. You smiled
And laughed at times. It’s easy to exaggerate
These memories of past troubles. But still I will not call
Upon Our Lady of Sorrows but of Joys, for you
Suffered so much, I hate to count her sorrows too.
She brought us both to Lourdes. For you had promised her
A pilgrimage when I was dying and there were
No doctors who would say I could get well. (So who
Can wonder that I have more trust in her than them?)
In that miraculous watering-place I loved the banked
Shops - Our Lady everywhere. You told me how her hymn
Rose up, spontaneous, from the thousands all around you
When, as a girl, you saw a cripple walk, and men linked
Arms to hold the crying crowds away. It's easy to see
God showed you that so you would pray with faith for me.
How all things work together, how He uses all
The small events of life to further plans that fall
Into their place so many years ahead, for past
And future, both are just as plain for Him to see
As what we are this minute: you, so safe at last,
Far from your fears and sorrows, loved and loving; I,
Still on the way. At times you seem so near. When we
Die, is it simply one short breath to Heaven? Does it lie,
Unseen, unfelt, beyond the senses, all around
Us? Are angels singing here without a sound?
These are the questions: you could give the answers now,
As when I used to have you work the problems, show
Me how A and B came home together, for it was
No use to ask my father, who got the answers right,
But with a slide-rule, or at once by calculus,
Or some such magic frowned on by the nuns at school.
You see all things just as they are, fixed in the light
Of God’s unending joy; you even see me now to scale:
Loved, yes, but only as God loves me, with His kind
Detachment, as you watch His image redesigned.
You are so near, and yet, it’s true, so far. The trip
May take a second, as the great air objects slip
At once away and out of sight and sound. But the dead
Are gone beyond our following, except by prayer,
Until we also leave the living, go on ahead
To join the always happy, always loving souls
Of those we knew and loved on earth. If I compare
That journey with the ones we used to take, my heart fails,
For I incline to think it will be vast and weird:
In fact, I shall be rushing home, all dangers cleared.
Do you remember when we left from Rome that day
And the Nuncio came to see us off and the whole way
To the train was carpeted in red, with groups of palms
On either side, and then the Cardinal, all en prince,
Appeared, attended by the railway people, and
Once we had departed, he came in, full of charm,
To our compartment, talked, and shared our picnic lunch,
And all went swimmingly until Loreto - the grand
Arrival, with the Bishop and the Canons there
At the station, and pious deference everywhere.
Only the Cardinal and ourselves had left the train.
We shared his glory: ‘Eminenza!’ and again
The scarlet figure gave the emerald ring to kiss,
Then, turning, brought us to the Bishop as his friends.
It was a moment, and God saw we kept it close
To our hearts forever, as the handsome suitcase
Bought in Rome burst open, strewing out not odds and ends,
But dirty laundry on the platform, and the chase
Began - Bishop and Canons vying to retrieve
The humble side of life which pride would have us leave.
How wonderful Loreto was! You used to hope
We might go back once more, climb up the so steep slope
To the basilica, and pray again at Mass
In the Santa Casa, where the Holy Family lived.
I still can see the Cardinal in those vestments flecked
With diamonds which some frightened king had given, pass,
The Bishop as his server, through the stone room paved
with the hidden footprints of Our Lord, to re-enact,
Like a village priest, the sacrifice on Calvary
Of God become a man, whom now you, Mother, see.
I wonder if the angels who took up one night
The Holy House from Nazareth and set it right
Down at that cross-roads on the stark Italian coast,
After the passing stay in Serbia, are the same
Angels who put the wooden replica in place
At Walsingham when the builders failed. The flame
Of love lights up Loreto, bathed in beauty, last
Home of Crashaw, driven with his poems to grace
A Canon’s stall, but Walsingham is ruins still,
Our Lady’s land, my own Loreto on the hill.
I think I am coming to the end of this last
letter to you, Dearest Mother, and the tears fall fast.
I know you’re happy and I know we’ll meet again
Soon in the perfect peace which you and Dad enjoy.
So many memories throng around me, bring their sad
Happiness, as though I found again the loved toys
You had me give the poor, to whom you were so good -
Especially beggars on the street. You would explain
To me that they might very likely be Our Lord.
When people talked against them, you would not hear a word.
How many lasting things I have to thank you for!
The most important presents are the ones I more
Or less ignored, which now have brought their beauty out.
There was the picture of the Sacred Heart you had,
With the red vigil light that burnt, to Dad’s alarm,
Among the silver on your dressing table, about
To set fire, he thought, to everything, which now can warm
A little bit my heart, and then there was the glued
Together statue of Our Blessed Mother, whose
Lovely face and gentleness make her my only muse.
There is so much to say, so little room in which
To say it, for the best poem is a shallow niche
To put around your goodness. No one knows but God
How many kindnesses you did. The prisoners got,
For thirty years in secret, things to read, and when
They found your name out by mistake, the chaplain said
You helped so many when they came to die. A lot
Of friends were waiting, with lamps alight, in Heaven, then,
To share their happiness with you and Dad, who both
Have all my love and thanks for giving me the Faith.